Can You Be a Humanist Without Being a Feminist?

by | April 3, 2018

This question is one of the most controversial within the humanist and feminist community:

Can you be a humanist without being a feminist?

Our short answer: No. If you are a humanist, then you are a feminist.

Humanism, broadly or expansively construed, is an ethical and philosophical worldview including religious and irreligious perspectives. Some definitions will exclude the religious because of assertion of the religious as only focused on the theistic and the supernatural.

For example, it could be seen, like in IHEU’s official definition, as a democratic and ethical life stance that affirms the worth of every human being and advocates for building a more humane society without a need for religious systems, and instead based on ethics and reasoning through human capabilities.

We disagree. Religion is practices and values, and so is culture and heritage, too. Humanism in a general definitional context incorporates these considerations such as, say, humanistic Judaism. As well, humanism remains theoretical; that is, humanism remains ethical and philosophical in nature. Its practice implies other terminology too.

For example, the development of a more humane society based on reason and free inquiry — and equality in fundamental human rights among and between human beings — posits a tacit egalitarianism.

What is egalitarianism, exactly?

Egalitarianism is a socio-political philosophy that advocates for the equality of all humans and equal entitlement to resources. Humanism as a theory incorporative of equality for all, implies egalitarianism — as it advocates for and works towards full equality for all. In this, humanism implies egalitarianism. But there’s different forms of equality, e.g. ethnic, educational, gender, and so on.

Image Credit: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Equal access to quality education. Equal treatment regardless of ethnicity. As well, of course, the equal treatment in legal and social life regardless of gender. Mainstream feminism accounts for gender equality. For instance, the right to vote incorporates the legal equality of women, and the advocacy for social equality between women and men.

Feminism is the advocacy for gender equality based on the belief that women do not have equal rights to men.

Thus if you are a feminist, then you are an egalitarian, and if you are an egalitarian, then you are for gender equality, and if you are for gender equality, then you are a feminist; therefore, if you are a humanist, then you are a feminist, but not vice versa.

One can be a believer in God and be a supernaturalist, but also engage in feminist activities and believe in gender equality. Hence, you can be a feminist and gender equalist without being a humanist by some definitions. As well, you can be for equal rights in all relevant respects or egalitarian — so education, gender, ethnicity, and so on, and a believer in God and supernaturalism.

Hence, you can be an egalitarian — which implicates gender equality and feminism — and not a humanist by some definitions.

So, can you be a humanist without being a feminist?

We say no. If you are a humanist, then you must be a feminist. However, by our definitions, you can be a feminist without being a humanist.

Original Publication in Humanist Voices.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen and Anya Overmann

Category: Opinion Tags: , ,

About Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere. You can contact Scott via email, his website, or Twitter.

7 thoughts on “Can You Be a Humanist Without Being a Feminist?

  1. steve oberskis

    If you reject the bad shit in the bible, koran, etc. to the point where you believe in the “equality in fundamental human rights among and between human beings” and then go on to claim that you believe in the god that wrote/inspired said texts then you are not telling the truth about one of your claims.

  2. Tim Underwood

    Secular humanism isn’t rigidly defined. It implies an avoidance of the supernatural linked to an sense of forbearance. Egalitarianism is a “Bridge Too Far” for most of us. Feminism seems to be reformulated every year. Paternalism together with priest-craft, like the homeless, are always with us.

    There are some big questions that democratic society is working on. Probably, secularism is the footing that democracy will have to be built on before more progress can be made. The Atheist Society is working to extend secularism as far and as wide as possible.

    One of the major problems in our contemporary world is drug addiction and suicide by non-college educated, unemployed, white males. These unwanted men believe they are abject failures and that they will never play the traditional patriarchal roll to any extent.

    The new automated environment, we find ourselves in, is very pro feminine in character. If males don’t inherit an ongoing business, graduate in some profession or qualify to be in the military, they are increasingly finding themselves competing with women and younger males for the same work. The women and younger males are much more competitive in most cases.

    Unless we come up with some social solution for this situation “Train Spotting” will become a more prevalent occupation. (I only am going by movie reviews as I have never actually read this work)

    1. Shawn the Humanst

      These unwanted men believe they are abject failures and that they will never play the traditional patriarchal roll to any extent.

      Yes, feminists have been saying that for a long time, and have worked out many changes and tried to put those in our cultural conversation. It’s a shame they have been ignored for decades now, as I believe this problem is coming to a head.

  3. Indi

    The Facebook conversation on this post is dreadful, full of anti-feminists waffling over the definitions.

    I know “humanism” is pretty concretely defined – every humanist organization I can think of gives a clear definition and there are multiple manifestos, and all of them jibe. What I’d like is a set of resources to get a clear, authoritative definition of “feminism”. I know it’s not defined as “misandry” or “female supremacy”, and I’ve never heard of anyone who defines it that way outside of the paranoid delusions of anti-feminist bigots. But I’d like resources I can point to. Does anyone know of clear definitions publicly available by major feminist organizations (is there an explicitly feminist equivalent of the IHEU?), or leading feminist scholars?

    I might even make a post collecting definitions of feminism from reputable sources, as a resource.

    1. Shawn the Humanst

      A single one? I don’t think so.

      At first brush, we have basic definitions like:

      1 : the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes

      2 : organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests

      Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes.[1][2] This includes seeking to establish educational and professional opportunities for women that are equal to those for men.

      It’s important to note that there are different competing schools of thoughts within feminism:

      Second wave feminists and third/fourth wave feminists generally disagree on things like if sex-work should be legal.

      At its heart, however, feminism as a academic pursuit is about how sex and gender is affected by socialization. I’m reminded of the guy who wanted a sociology degree to research and correct people about MRA issues, and found that those issues were already dealt with in feminist and sociology theory.

      I’ve never thought of actually looking for activist organizations. But there is a separation, or at least a difference, between activist and academic areas that are considered feminist. We probably need to keep that in mind. One side tends to be women’s issue activism, the other side feminist theory and research. In the middle you have people talking about feminism online.

      1. Indi

        Yes, I don’t expect to find a single, authoritative definition of feminism. In the first place, there is no feminist Pope or figurehead that dictates the rules for all of feminism, and in the second place, feminism covers so very many different things – because sexism exists in so many different ways, in so many different places – that it’s to be expected that people are going to view and apply feminism in many different ways.

        But the same is true for humanism, right? At least to some extent. I mean, there are hundreds of explicitly humanist organizations – and thousands more implicitly humanist – and they all have different statements of humanism. And they all act differently and focus on different things, and sometimes vehemently disagree. As just one concrete example, Humanist Canada and the British Columbia Humanist Association – the two biggest humanist organizations in Canada – had a fairly heated and very public disagreement about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. And Humanist Canada supported the Québec Charter of Values, while the International Humanist and Ethical Union released a statement condemning its core premise.

        But if you looked at the definition of humanist given by all of those organizations – the IHEU, Humanist Canada, the BCHA… if you read every book or manifesto of humanism… if you asked Andrew Copson, Eric Thomas, or Ian Bushfield… while they would all give you different definitions of humanism, there would be some things that are shared across all or most definitions. From those we could deduce a very broad, very vague core set of principles and characteristics that are essentially universal to humanism in all its forms. I would imagine those core principles would include things like rationalism and the importance of human equality and freedom, which is why we can say something like “if you are a humanist, then you are a feminist” with some level of confidence and authority, and no one can really muster a serious objection.

        Or if you prefer to avoid the f-word for now, you can say, “if you are a humanist, then you are against slavery”. Even though virtually no organizations or people explicitly mention chattel slavery in their definitions of humanism, and virtually no organizations are doing any sort of active campaigning against slavery (because slavery is virtually non-existent in the modern world, outside of places like Mauritania and so on), the universally shared characteristics in all (or most) definitions of humanism make it so there is no way anyone can reasonably object to the assertion.

        I wonder if it is possible to do the same for feminism.

        I wonder if it is possible to collect the definitions of all major feminist organizations around the world, and from the writings of people broadly considered by near-universal consensus to be feminist thought leaders (not just people who call themselves feminists, but people that feminist thinkers in general, in consensus, consider to be relevant voices in modern feminism), and distill from those a core set of principles and characteristics that would constitute the bare minimum, most general, vaguest possible definition of feminism.

        I suspect that if one did that, the definition one would end up with not include even a whiff of misandry or female supremacy… because I believe those things only exist in the paranoid delusions of anti-feminists. I don’t believe any real feminists or feminist organizations support those ideas.

        Oh I know there will be fringe voices that advocate crazy, extremist ideas. But then, there are people who straight-up advocate “white genocide” nonsense and call themselves humanists. The point is that the fringe loonies don’t really define humanism… so neither should be the case for feminism. So if we can collect the “core” of feminism – the major organizations, the prominent voices – then we should be able to distill the core definition of feminism… which I suspect won’t be what the anti-feminists think it will be.

    2. Derek Gray

      Ya, I really don’t get it. Are there really so many misandrists calling themselves feminists that that therefore *changes* the definition of feminism?
      What’s with the hysteria over it all? where are these supposed hoards of misadrist-feminists forcing us to change definitions???
      There is the stink of Jordan Peterson all over Facebook…


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